Switchboard Festival Gives Voice To Overlooked Music

A Bell System switchboard, December 22,1943(Photo: US National Archives)
A Bell System switchboard, December 22,1943(Photo: US National Archives)

The old switchboards employed by Ma Bell were marvelous inventions.  Anyone could be connected to everyone, simply by plugging in a few cables.  

Adapting that idea to music, composer Ryan Brown and two of his musician friends decided it was important to connect music lovers with composers and performers not likely to be found on stage with the symphony or giving recitals at Lincoln Center.

The Switchboard Festival, now in it’s sixth year, is a day-long performance marathon which allows attendees to immerse themselves in styles which, according to festival founders Ryan Brown, Jeff Anderle, and Jonathan Russell, would otherwise fall into the cracks.  

In this sample video, I heard everything from beatbox bass clarinet to dubstep, and that’s just the first 20 seconds!

Anderle and Russell both play bass clarinet.  Having played that instrument, along with a couple of others which rarely see the front of a stage, I can understand why they feel the need to shine the spotlight on musical styles and instrument combinations which fit into no existing category.

The great thing is, however, that it works, much in the way that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams works.  Reading the flavors does not begin to tell the story at Jeni’s.  In the same way, reading descriptions and notes about the performers and music doesn’t even scratch the surface.

For instance, if someone told you they wrote a piece of music based on Morse Code, that tells you very little and gives you no context.  If you saw it advertised as part of a concert, would it entice you to go?  Probably not.  The Switchboard Festival gives listeners the opportunity to sample a huge range of musical styles much like a sampler plate in a restaurant.   You get to try many flavors, but if you don’t care for something, you can try something else.

The music based on Morse code is called Can You Hear Me? by Wally Brown.  You can hear it here.

Build is a quintet, (violin, cello, bass, piano, drums), based in Brooklyn headed up by composer Matt McBane.  Their music is equally difficult to categorize, yet fun and engaging. Swelter 3 on Hwy 74 is a prime example.

While most of us may never make to San Francisco to the Switchboard Festival, it’s good to know that music makers and music lovers still find ways to get together, experiment, and continue to propel the cause of music forward.

Read more: SF’s Annual Switchboard Music Festival Celebrates the Eclectic (New Music Box)

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